Can You Survive with a Pig's Heart?
New Technology Brings Us One Step Closer to the Future
August 21, 2017, Bruno Jacobsen
Scientists have just used the gene-editing CRISPR technology to eliminate a family of viruses in pigs that could be transmitted to humans in transplants or other cases. This seems to have two implications. First, it provides yet further evidence that this new gene-editing technology is here to stay and can profoundly impact genetics as we know it. The second is that it may prove to be a way to eliminate the risks involved with animal-to-human transplants which could save millions of lives every year.
The new study, published in Science, explains that the researchers were able to target viruses called porcine endogenous retroviruses, also known as "PERV," and deactivate them with CRISPR (check out the video above to get a quick overview of CRISPR-Cas9). These viruses were one of the concerns in xenotransplantation trials, being a potential cause for complications in patients after they receive the transplants.
According to the MIT Technology Review, this is the work of the startup eGenesis, a spin-off of a lab at Harvard. According to the article, in the US alone, there are more than 116,000 people waiting to receive lifesaving transplants, with only a bit over 17,000 transplants having been performed this year. The ability to use animal organs in order to satisfy the demand for lifesaving organs could help save hundreds of thousands of lives, if not millions, all over the world.
However, as it is always the case with the medical industry, new advances can take many years to become mainstream, due to the lengthy review processes, clinical trials, and approvals needed.
Nevertheless, eGenesis presents us with more hope that CRISPR and its descendent technologies may become increasingly capable of editing genes without too many unforeseen consequences. As this improves, and as we continue to develop our understanding of modern genetics and couple it with computer science and advanced engineering, the medical industry might enter a new era.
Are you excited or concerned about technologies such as CRISPR? Leave your comments below!